one adoptee’s journey to find his birth mother brings him around the world, but ultimately changes him on the inside.
Brett had been adopted as a baby in Arizona. “I’ve always felt incredibly lucky to be adopted. I was adopted into a loving, stable family. My little sister, Ashley, was born biologically to my parents a year or so after I was adopted. My parents, siblings, grandparents, cousins and I have always loved and supported each other even though we don’t share the same genes. I never felt different than my family, and my family has never treated me differently.”
After selling his company to Ancestry.com, Brett spent his days helping other people trace their biological roots, and it led him to want to trace his own. “I started to feel curious about who my biological parents were, to understand that side of my identity. It felt like a great mystery that deserved investigating. I wanted to be sensitive to the feelings of my adoptive parents. They were extremely supportive from Day 1. It was an emotional experience for them too, and in many ways, the search brought us closer together.”
Brett began his quest to find his birth mother back in Arizona. He petitioned the county court to release his mother’s last name. They did, and he was able to track down his birth mother’s siblings who lived in Las Vegas. They had lost touch with his Mom, Susie, over 20 years ago, though they thought she had moved back to Taiwan, where they were from.
Without knowing much more than that, Brett bought a flight to Taiwan, in the hopes of finding out more information once he arrived. He contacted the Taiwan authorities to see if they had any records of Susie, but they didn’t have any record of Susie returning from the US. Luckily, one of Susie’s siblings came through with a text message.
He traveled across the country to the Farmer’s hospital, where he found Susie. The hospital was for the homeless. Susie had been picked up over over 15 years ago and admitted to the hospital. She had schizophrenia. She only spoke Mandarin and Brett only spoke English. Also, Susie was mostly deaf. So the two communicated with the help of translators and who would write Mandarin on paper for Susie. Her memory was hazy, but she remembered that she had lived in Las Vegas for a time and had had two sons and one daughter.
“I told her ‘I am Frank Hughes’, which was my original name. She remembered that Frank Hughes was her son, but she still couldn’t understand that he was me.”
She said “My son would not visit from the United States. Plus, he is too handsome to be my son.”
Brett tried over the next week to explain to her that he was her son in different ways. He showed her the first picture of him, at 2 weeks old, which Susie had taken. She remembered that picture. And then he showed photos of himself growing up until now. Sadly, she couldn’t make the connection.
On the last day of his visit, Brett made copies of the photo of him as a baby and him together with Susie on his visit. He put the pictures and a note on her wall. It said, “Your son Frank Hughes is very grateful to you for giving birth to him and for putting him up for adoption. He is now 32 years old and has had a very good life — loving family, great education, fulfilling career. He is happy and proud to be your son.”
When Brett came back to the US, he had a flood of different emotions and thoughts. “I felt a deep sense of gratitude to Susie for placing me for adoption, since she clearly did not seem to be in a position to care for me herself. And I was grateful to have been raised in such a loving home by my parents.”
Brett found himself wanting to learn more about adoptions. “I was shocked to learn that the majority of parents who try to adopt drop out in the process due to cost or difficulty in the process, even though there are over 100,000 children in the US waiting to be adopted and millions of children around the world waiting.” He made a mental note that he wanted to get involved in adoptions one day.
Less than a year later, he had his opportunity. He read a blog post about the launch ofBinti, which is TurboTax for adoption paperwork. As a mission-driven company, Binti uses technology to make the adoption process easier for parents to navigate. As a software engineer, tech company founder and adoptee himself, Brett immediately connected with the idea of using technology to make the adoption process easier for qualified parents. He immediately emailed the founder, met up, and made one of the first investments in the company.
Brett is an active advisor to Binti. “It’s exciting to get to use my background as a software engineer and tech founder to help adoptions.” There are two parts to every adoption - 1) a home study, which is essentially parents getting approved as adoptive parents in their state, and 2) the placement, which is adopting a child. Binti currently handles paperwork for home studies and has a network of home study agency partners who handle the in person components and approval decision of a home study. Within 6 months of launching, Binti is live in 27 states and on track to handle more home studies than any other organization in the country. Binti is launching into adoption placement paperwork in early 2015.
“I’m grateful that adoption provided me with a loving family. My mission with helping Binti is to help every child find a loving home and an opportunity at a great life.”